Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Long Now by Beth Burns, Shrewd Productions at the Blue Theatre, May 21 - June 13

Beth Burns'
The Long Now opens with the charmingly simple concept stressed in its marketing:

Tish Reilly has a very special friend – Time. Tish can go back to any place where a good memory remains and enter it, reliving the moments that please her.

We meet the winsome Tish, played by Shannon Grounds, at her dead end job of alphabetizing and filing folders beginning with the letter "F." Maybe this is an insurance company; maybe it's another bureaucracy.

Her boss Tom is a limp self-important macho dolt. Her female co-worker Sherrie laughs at Larry and at the absurdity of their assignments. Good sport Sherrie, played by Anne Hulsman, is always pressing Tish to come along for a girls' lunch or a girls' night of drinking.
No wonder our Tish is a dreamer, escaping into reveries reaching all the way back to the warm, safe world of elementary school. Tish goes out to fetch coffee for the office,calls up her friend Time.

Tish receives Time's permission to transform into her tiny self, back when Mom was her best friend, and at school a cute boy named Larry was paying delighted attention to her.

So far, this could be a whimsical children's play, except for some of boss Tom's coarse
har-har language and coworker Sherrie's raucous talk. Nothing too serious is going on. Work is hell, but we all knew that, and the cardboard comic figures make it palatable. There's a cute joke about misfiling the "Pf" names (such as "Pfluger") among the "F" names. We're ready to settle in and enjoy the education and vicissitudes of Tish.

But what about that figure of Time? The puppet figure is visible only to Tish and to us. Time speaks in the eerie voice furnished by T. Lynn Mikeska, patronizing but barely inflected.

We are not in Muppet land here. Time appears as a stark flat articulated figure moving on any of the several screens ranged across the set. Time appears in different sizes and faces, including one tiny face that in a spine-chilling moment simply dissolves to a gray haze.

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